V.I.S.I.T. – Jeep Wagoneer

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Writing for Hooniverse often takes me to strange and dangerous places, like the parking lot of an Applebee’s. But it wasn’t the peppery smell of the 1,420 calorie Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger, or the tangy aroma of the 1,340 calorie Cheeseburger Sliders with Applewood Smoked Bacon that drew me there, delicious though they may be. Rather, it was the sight of this first-generation Jeep Wagoneer. Or upon closer inspection, a later Wagoneer retrofitted with a first-generation front fascia. Now, I’m not really a fan of lifted anything, but there was something very compelling about this truck, something that’s missing from the SUVs of today. The front fascia alone is a piece of industrial design that probably wouldn’t be allowed in our day and age, simply because it looks menacing enough to make dogs faint and infants cry. And that is precisely what makes it so cool today.

Long before Wagoneers became the hottest thing to keep at your manse on the Cape, to make runs into town to pick up “provisions” for the upcoming sail with Tad, Cabot, Topper, Garrett, Lander, Kitty, and Mackenzie (I have more of these, by the way), Jeeps were actually working vehicles and were used as such. First put into production in 1962 in pickup form, the Gladiator premiered with a 3.8 liter Tornado engine making just over 140bhp. The Wagoneer joined the lineup the year after that, when Willys became the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, and a couple years later AMC’s 5.4 liter V8 became optional. And in 1971 a slightly softer (less manly, according to expert assessments) front fascia was unveiled. But those old Jeeps were almost never babied, and along with the Gladiator the first-generation Wagoneers were just used up and then left out to rot out in the woods, next to a 1970 Shasta LoFlyte camper that’s now a trendy hotel and spa for raccoons.

I find it that the press often overlooks the first-generation Wagoneer when talking about the forefathers of the modern SUV, in favor of the Range Rover. The Rangie, lest we forget, came out in 1970, a full eight years after the Wagoneer went on sale. But since the Rangie is the media darling and gets tons of screentime in film and television, it’s what most people think when talking about the forerunners of the SUV (if they think about that sort of thing at all). That, and a certain TV host takes every opportunity to showcase the Range Rover as the greatest four by four in the wuuuhld!

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Even though the Wagoneer stayed in production for 29 years without any major changes, it’s really the very latest Wagoneers that enjoy a following, rather than the very first examples. And that right there tends to betray the reason for the current fashion of owning a Grand Wagoneer with faux wood trim; not collectibility, but fashionability and ease of use. The later Grand Wagoneers will always be collectibles, but I am sure we would all agree that the audience and market values for first-generation and last-generation Wagoneers of the same platform are quite different.

Would you prefer to restore a first-gen Wagoneer to stock specification, or is it fair game for restomodding?

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jay Ramey]

29 Comments

  1. These are cherished in the Colorado high country, and high-elevation foothills, as with a plow on the front, they're unstoppable.
    I looked at a clean late-80's one a few years ago, and I still like the idea, but didn't like the random interior updates. Most of it looked very 1973, but here and there, you could see items which just didn't fit with the 'decor'.
    This said, I still want one, 10 MPG and all.

  2. I helped Dad rebuild a '67 version into a farm truck a decade ago. It ended up with a Chevy inline-6 engine out of a dump truck, mated through an adapter made out of scrap metal to the stock TH400, transfer case, and axles. Ran awesome and was unstoppable on the trails, but enthusiasm for keeping it up waned when the brakes failed and it became overrun with wasps.
    I feel like the owner of the one in the picture should really fab a roll bar for it (maybe they did anyway, can't tell) if they're going to spend that much money. If you roll over in one of these, you die.

  3. Nice find Jay. While I also am not a huge fan of lifted machines, this coolness of the conversion overcomes the lift kit.
    As an aside, I have often considered updating the fascia of my Comanche to a later model Cherokee.

    1. That would be neat, I'm kinda surprised I've never seen anything like that, and it would definitely turn heads.

      1. From what I have been able to determine, the substructure for the front end redesign changed significantly enough to warrant this near impossible. I, too, have never seen another. I did see one in the comments section of a post I did awhiles back where there was a Chinese front end on one though.

  4. So, I'm going to say. I've owned two of these over the years, an '83 and a '91. Both had their original AMC 360 V8s and were fun to own.
    They'd go anywhere, always turn heads and made me feel proud to be 'Merican.
    That said, they got awful mileage, were hard to start on cold mornings, struggled to keep pace on the highway and had questionable ergonomics.
    Still, I'd buy another today if my budget allowed me to make the upgrades I'd want to.
    <img src="http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2412/2473610693_436870a81d.jpg&quot; width="300" height="225" alt="Exterior – Passenger Side">
    <img src="http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3113/2473607517_5b0d5d74fd.jpg&quot; width="500" height="375" alt="Interior – Dash">

    1. Man, these look so good in green!
      I miss my '83 Wagoneer. Gutless, tired I6, but it did get 25 mpg or so on the highway. Worked OK when I was commuting 500 miles/week, and it tolerated an awful lot of abuse when I was 19-20.

    1. Older grilles are hard to find cheap. Re-pops are available, but the whole kit to do it is like $500…right outside of "non-functional mod" price limits for most Wagoneer owners.

  5. I never caught the Jeep bug, not even for CJs. My uncle had a Wagoneer in the '70s, but if you asked him about it his eyes would glare and he'd ask, "You mean the LEMONeer?!?" and then he'd tun his head away petulantly and say no more. Put me off them, I guess.
    There's some shiny bright examples of these around San Francisco (of course; there's an example of just about everything on these roads) but they don't tickle my fancy.
    My pal and ally in Scout foolishness has a Cherokee that just pulled through a surprise fire-road blizzard 14 hour tree-falling hell ride on street tires with an 8 year old kid so I can't speak badly about them.

    1. So you caught the Binder Bug instead? Man, that's wild. I'd get a Travelall or, better yet, Wagon Master, but I don't like the idea of being able to watch it rust before my eyes.

    1. 9 out of 10 early broncos I see where I roam are lifted and cut. I like the 1 out of ten every time.
      9 out of 10 bronco II's are are just stock, neglated, pos, on the way to the junkyard piles. Thats when I appreciate a straght body, lift ect.
      Nice bronco pic even though. Under the radar to most people looking for a classic ride.

  6. Strangely enough, these are relatively common in Holland, where I live. I encounter 70's to 80's Grand Wagoneers, Cherokees and most SJ's in general on a regular basis. Tax wise it's pretty good because it's an oldtimer and a lot are converted to run on LPG gas.

  7. This one's cleaner as it's also a narrow-track vehicle. The axles are 3" narrower and there are no fender flares. Given the drivers-side drop front axle makes it an 80-83.
    Stock early Wagoneers pretty much blow goats.
    Aside from the 258 I-6 (with a 4 speed), all the non-V8 motors are super gutless. At stock ride height they hang up on the smallest of ruts or overhangs, the Dana 27 front axle is garbage and the frame is flexible enough that when twisted on a trail you can't open the doors (ask me how I know).
    Additionally, early Wagoneers (63-73) have millions of differences (including the frame) from later ones. The later ones really are better engineered, but tend to be pretty malaise-y in terms of interior and styling details.
    There might be a sweet spot at 74/75, as they're still pre-smog and can even be found with a 401, but those years are kind of orphan bastard transition years for the chassis. Some new parts fit, some don't.
    The value a Wagoneer brings to the table is being a mid-size. It can carry more people and gear than a CJ/Wrangler/Early Bronco/Scout, but is narrower than a Blazer/Suburban/Full-size Bronco by a good 4 inches. It's really worth weighing what value that brings against the significantly easier/better ownership experience offered by either going up or down in size.

    1. Whoa. So, you've like, been in one of these a few times I take it? : )
      I'm quite partial to the looks of the first-facelift Gladiators, with a thriftside bed. You just don't see stuff like that, even at shows.

      1. Move to California.
        They're thick on the ground here, though never in the right combination of engine, bodystyle, year, price, bank balance and time.

      1. Still have mine.
        Not sure if "enjoying" is the word, but it continues to be my primary hauler for the endless hardware store runs I'm doing while working on my house.
        Later this year I'll be making a concerted effort to fix the stuff that's wrong with it.

  8. Given the options one has these days, I'm not sure I could rule out any SJ regardless of its spec engine/tranny combo. Yes, the 401 may be sweet if you're going stock, but I wouldn't limit myself. I drove a 360 CJ-7 for years (originally 304) and would welcome an SJ of any sort now just for the space to haul the kids on trail rides. These are great platforms that are simple to modify and a perfect truck for the entry-level enthusiast to cut their teeth on.

  9. It's an interesting question; that of the Forerunner of the SUV. My take on things is that, yes, the Wagoneer probably was the first vehicle to fit the mould of what we now call the SUV. However, I don't think there can be any denial that the Range Rover was actually concieved and marketed as an SUV from the very beginning.
    It was always a luxury vehicle, sold as a 4×4 alternative to big Rovers and Jags, and has never dipped below that pricepoint but has continued skywards to now being seen as an S-Class rival. Early brochures are full of people on grouse shoots, wearing Barber jackets. So the Range Rover wasn't really anything new per se, but it did have a very definitive job description.

    1. ….and Wellies I bet : )
      Wait, is it a fact that Rangies were marketed as "SUV" in the 1970s? I thought SUV was a much newer term.
      Def agreed that the Rangie was luxury from the start.

      1. No, I don't think it occurred to anybody to coin the phrase SUV until the nineties, but in terms of market positioning it was always a De Facto SUV. It would be interesting to see exactly when that term (which has always annoyed me) actually came into being.

    2. The Wagoneer was definitely intentionally more luxurious than the Willys Wagon it replaced or the Suburban and Travelall it competed against. They were marketed as wagons, alternatives to the Impala or Country Sedan as much as anything.
      According to AllPar:
      The 1965 Jeep Wagoneer was advertised as being “the only four wheel drive station wagon with the stylish appearance and luxury manners of a modern family car!” That was certainly true, at least in the United States; it could boast of variable-rate rear springs, servo-type drum brakes, and an optional GM automatic transmission, not to mention the usual power steering and power brakes. The four wheel drive control used a simple lever, without requiring a stop, and lit an indicator lamp when active.
      Original is at Jeep Wagoneer description and information http://www.allpar.com/SUVs/jeep/wagoneer.html#ixz
      "Original SUV" sort of devolves into what you consider the term to mean. Some include aspects of luxury and faux-ruggedness. I prefer the narrow definition of "a truck/4×4 chassis with a people-carrying body on it". That's what they were until crossovers started to muddy the waters when the RAV-4 and CRV showed up. In fact, that's why they called them crossovers: to differentiate the fact that they were SUV-shaped, but definitely not worth of the name.

  10. I came across this beauty in the hill country near Austin over the Holiday Season. The driver was a 30 something petite woman with dreadlocks a small scruffy dog and no evidence of a recent trip to a laundromat. As my wife and I climbed into our rental silver Ford Edge was thinking how boring some SUVs had gotten and how much I must look like as good a match for that Edge as she did for her Wagoneer
    hope the links work
    <img src="http://m7.i.pbase.com/o2/21/513721/1/148895707.PRV1WAJH.0859w.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://m1.i.pbase.com/o2/21/513721/1/148895711.eoTty1Fc.IMG_0862w.jpg"&gt;

  11. You know what I find funny. A disproportionate number of people I've met in FSJ circles are, like me, also into Saabs. Not exactly two vehicles you'd consider anyone being into both of and yet there are dozens of us.

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